By the nineteenth century, Russia was the only nation in Europe that still clung to the ways of feudalism. About fifty percent of Russian peasants were tied to a landowner as a "serf," a hereditary state that passed its slave-status to each successive generation.
However, in 1856, it became clear to all that Russia was no longer a great power, given its poor show in the Crimean War and its acute sense of backwardness. In response, Czar Alexander II issued the Emancipation Manifesto in 1861, which called for the freedom of all serfs. Peasants were newly able to buy land. The hope was that a transformation of the social order would begin and spark a market economy. "The Cherry Orchard" takes place during this period of difficult shifts, which required an intense ability to adapt to new modes of living.
A middle class rose to power, peopled by industrialists, businessmen, merchants, and other professionals, creating a new bourgeois consciousness. Simultaneously, the landed aristocracy declined.